Hail, Ichneumonid Redux!
Commentary about the "ichneumonids" continues apace, and again I must apologize for belabouring this topic—but Reginald Shepherd still seems to be missing the point that, Bernstein and I are not endorsing any hyperbolic comparison between poetic conflict and social genocide—we are merely citing (both critically and ironically) the very fact that Fenza does! Fenza equates the avant-garde with a parasitic insectoid that threatens to eradicate literature, and he implies that such a cannibal intruder must be "stung to death" before it can contaminate or exterminate the hive of our culture. Shepherd might question his own claim that such rhetoric does not arise from "sheer malice" if, for such a hateful conceit, he substitutes by comparison, any marginal identity other than the avant-garde (be it gays or jews—or whomever…).
Shepherd does not acknowledge that Fenza actually imagines the avant-garde to be a "government intent upon eradicating the…reading public"—but rather than chide Fenza for making such a hyperbolic comparison between poetic conflict and social genocide, Shepherd prefers to upbraid Bernstein and me for being so "offensive" as to make explicit this paranoid rhetoric deployed by the director of the AWP. Shepherd then apologizes for Fenza by saying—in the face of such disturbing, hyperbolic tropes—that Fenza "has got a point" (you know, theory does in fact constitute a "cookie-cutter" threat to poetry), and all the while Shepherd fails to take into account that Fenza is himself promulgating a "cookie-cutter" theory, one whose rhetoric partakes of the very ideological obfuscation that Fenza nevertheless imputes to the avant-garde.
Shepherd cites his own extended readings of theory in order to point out that avant-garde scholars really do "misuse" poetic theory (and he forgets, perhaps, that I, too, have read lots of books by the likes of Derrida, Lyotard, and Deleuze, et al.—so I, too, can vouch for similar misuses of such poetic theory in the academy)—but all this scholastic experience does not seem to have helped Shepherd either to recognize or to castigate the discursive "creepiness" in the theory by Fenza. Shepherd fails to acknowledge that Bernstein and I might criticize the rhetoric of Fenza because we, too, expect an argument to comply with evidence, clarifying, rather than obscuring, the facts at hand—and we, too, might find "offensive" and "upsetting" the use of a genocidal discourse to browbeat scholars who might refuse to "join the hive."
Shepherd fails to see that Bernstein is "darkly amused" by Fenza, in part because of the political condition under which such a paranoid diatribe gets written—a terrorist condition of total peril, in which avant-garde artists like Steve Kurtz have already become collateral sufferers. Shepherd has already balked at me describing the USA as a nation on the brink of becoming a "hyperfascist, surveillance state"—so in the interest of critical dialogue, I might refer him to the article entitled Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps by Naomi Wolf, who provides convincing arguments that, despite the apparent freedoms still upheld in America, the administration has eroded the foundation for them in so corrosive, yet so unopposed, a manner that such "fascism" must constitute a kind of upgrade upon any past form of totalitarian encroachment (hence, my own use of the prefix "hyper-"). I think that, under such circumstances, a few cautionary caricatures of authority might seem tonic.
(Thanks again, Reginald, for enduring the onslaught of such provocative controversy….)
Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial...